BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
GOVERNMENT has failed to implement recommendations of the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Report, amid deteriorating human rights as well as closure of civic space in the country, rights groups have said.
In a report compiled by 68 civic groups coordinated by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, National Association of Non-governmental Organisations and the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, the lobby groups noted with concern government’s penchant for disregarding the rule of law.
The report, titled Zimbabwe 3rd Cycle United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Civil Society Organisations, Stakeholders’ Report 14 July 2021, was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council ahead of the council’s assessment of Zimbabwe’s human rights situation on January 26.
The UPR is the periodic review of the human rights records of the 193 UN Member States by the UPR Working Group in Geneva. Every country is assessed once every five years. Zimbabwe was last assessed in 2016.
The working group reviews reports from governments while civic organisations produce parallel reports which ordinarily comment on the government report.
An oversight report by the civic society organisations says Zimbabwe failed to implement most of the recommendations made during the second cycle of the UPR.
“The government of Zimbabwe continues to struggle with exercising governmental power within the bounds of rule of law,” part of the report read.
“It uses arbitrary arrests and prosecution as a weapon to silence or intimidate human rights defenders. In 2020 alone, the arbitrary arrest and lengthy pre-trial detention of persons who openly opposed oppressive methods of governance such as Hopewell Chin’ono, Jacob Ngarivhume, Godfrey Kurauone, Job Sikhala, Fadzayi Mahere, and students including Takudzwa Ngadziore, Tawanda Mucheyiwa and Allan Moyo highlight the continued groundless prosecution.”
The report also noted: “The fact that prosecution of these otherwise simple charges remains pending shows that their arrest and prosecution have been used as a weapon to silence and harass dissenting voices with no intention to genuinely prosecute.”
On Judiciary independence, the lobby groups said since 2016, the independence of the Judiciary and fair trial rights in politically-motivated cases had deteriorated with opposition party-affiliated suspects, independent journalists arbitrarily subjected to protracted pre-trial detention.
“Following the January 2019 protests dragnet arrests, suspects appeared before magistrates in split sessions despite being charged for the same offences, were arbitrarily denied bail, and subjected to summary trials.”
The civic groups also noted the extension of pre-trial detention periods by reserving judgments in bail applications and delaying the production of court records for appeals despite the legal position that bail hearings are urgent matters.
They said retrogression had been witnessed in judicial independence through constitutional amendments that placed the appointment of judges under the Executive arm of government.
The civic groups said there was need to affirm the independence of the Judiciary to allow judges to apply the law without favour and guarantee equal protection of the law for all and desist from further amending the Constitution.
“Since 2017, the government has pushed through Parliament two Bills introducing several amendments to the Constitution. The amendments have a devastating impact on the separation of powers, increasing Executive control over appointments within the Judiciary and of the Prosecutor-General.
The amendments also undermine the oversight role of Parliament over actions of the Executive.”
Civil society organisations also expressed concern over the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Bill, which they said was a threat to the democratic space in the country.
“Civic space continues to shrink at an alarming rate. Proposed new laws such as amendments to the PVO Act and Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Criminal Code), and the Patriotic Bill, will undermine the work of human rights defenders and NGOs [non-governmental organisations], especially those working on governance issues,” the report added.
They also noted that government had politicised documentation of citizens by centralising registration centres.
Politicised food distribution and criminalisation of communication by private citizens with foreign governments were also cited as violations of human rights by the government.